The Wisdom of Adam Smith for our Own Times

Courtesy of Professor Antal E. Fekete @ Professor Fekete.com:

─ A Rejoinder ─

Let us celebrate the 291st birthday of the great Scottish economist together and let us rehabilitate his Real Bills Doctrine!

Antal E. Fekete

New Austrian School of Economics

Richard Ebeling in the June 3rd issue of the Daily Bell under the same title contributed a much needed reminder of the relevance of Adam Smith’s wisdom to our contemporary world. I am not going to speculate whether the omission of not mentioning Adam Smith’s Real Bills Doctrine was accidental or deliberate. However, it is well known that post-Mises Austrian economists have taken a disdainful view of the Real Bills Doctrine and it would have been nice to have Ebeling’s coherent articulation of their position. I can do no better than revisiting Adam Smith’s great contribution to the theory of money and credit (which, significantly, received the nihil obstat of Carl Menger a hundred years later) for the benefit of the Daily Bell’s readership.

Consumption as a source of credit

Adam Smith’s insight that consumption, next to savings, is another fundamental source of credit was one of the great discoveries of economics, comparable in importance to Carl Menger’s subsequent discovery of marginal utility as the source of value. We owe the concept of social circulating capital (SCC) to Adam Smith. By this he meant that part of the flow of consumer goods in most urgent demand that is moving sufficiently fast to the ultimate consumer so that it will be removed from the market in 91 days (the length of the seasons of the year in our temperate zone). For example, items like bread, seasonal garments and firewood in winter will unquestionably be consumed in definite quantities and do thus belong to SCC; items like grain held for speculative gains, unsold garments left over from the previous season and firewood in summer do not. Producers and distributors handling goods that form part of the SCC enjoy special privileges and have special responsibilities due to the special place their product occupies in the constellation of economic goods. They don’t have to face uncertainties and don’t have to carry risks all other producers and distributors have to face and carry. They do not finance their production under the relatively harsh terms of the interest-rate regime. They can finance it under the relatively more lenient terms of the discount-rate regime.

SCC has been compared to a great river that empties into the infinite ocean of consumption. The salinity of water undergoes important changes downstream as the river gets within earshot of the ocean. Fish habitat prospering in these waters changes. Similarly, important changes occur in the type of credit financing production and distribution of goods downstream as the ultimate consumer is getting ready to remove them from the market in less than 91 days. In particular, the gold coin need not be saved in advance of production. Financing is done retroactively with the gold coin released by the ultimate consumer. Continue reading

Coordination of the Natural Social Interaction

Courtesy of Sandeep Jaitly @ Fekete research.com:

The aim of this paper is to show that the monetary/financial system that develops is a representation of some form of productive social interaction. The monetary system is the consequence, not the cause, of productive social interaction.

Money is defined as that substance which is the ultimate extinguisher of any debt. As a consequence the substance(s) used as money must have perceived value in and of itself. Menger described the iterative procedure by which a substance was promoted to money by the people themselves in ‘The Origin of Money (1892.)’

There is no record of the date at which humanity first gave value to gold and silver because the Sanskrit literature that first referred to them cannot itself be accurately dated. However, we can be sure about the mechanism that resulted in their promotion to the monetary metals courtesy of Menger.

The substance which is promoted to money will necessarily have very high inventory to primary production ratio (also known as stocks to flow ratio.) This arises from the fact that incremental additions to one’s personal holdings of this substance do not affect one’s personal terms of acceptance of this substance. This substance must exist, just as the largest number amongst a set of numbers must exist.

If one arranges all commodities on earth by the stocks to flow ratio, two metallic commodities stick out markedly: gold and silver. The extent by which these two metals differ from the next substance in terms of stock to flow is astounding and testimony to the exceptionally long period of time over which humanity has valued these two metals. There can be no other explanation.

With the monetary substance chosen, the evolution of the financial and payment system – merely a mirror of the natural ‘social interaction’ that arises from the fact of our own existence – can begin.

Economic activity is a base synonym for ‘social interaction:’ the farmer sending wheat to the miller who sends flour to the baker who makes bread for consumption. The crude extractor sending oil to the refiner who sends on refined petroleum distillate to the retail pumps. These are all examples of social interaction. Interaction that is not related per se to the medium used for money. Interaction that occurs by the very nature of our existence. Interaction that must recur for the maintenance of our existence.

A defined amount of the monetary substance is the unit of account of multiple aspects of this social interaction. An extended social procedure stretched over countless millennia itself gave birth to the monetary media, so it is quite clear to see that neither the monetary substance itself, nor the amount in existence, would influence that social interaction.

Social interaction occurs in different ‘forms’ and ‘frequencies.’ For example, the sale of bread by the baker is pretty much guaranteed whereas the sale of the new jet engine to the aircraft company is not. This is an example of differing forms of social interaction.

The construction of an airport takes a different period of time (usually) to the construction of a residential home. This would be an example of differing frequencies of social interaction. Continue reading